Poor air quality around pools potential health hazard for swimmers

Some would say rust eating away at basketball hoops, padlocks and doors to swimming facilities is normal. Professionals in the pool industry disagree.

“If it’s doing that to the metals, it’s not going to be completely healthy for you either,” said Jeff Dugdale, Queens University Director if Swimming and Aquatics.

Don Baker, CEO of Paddock Pool Equipment Co., added, “If you put that into perspective, if it eats stainless steel, aluminum and carbon steel, what’s it doing to you and me?”

Swim coaches and experts in the pool industry believe poor air quality has sent swimmers to hospitals for decades. Olympic gold medalist, Tyler Clary, is one of them.

“I started coughing, and coughing, and coughing,” Clary recalled, “and I got the point where I was actually hyperventilating, and it caused me to pass out.” He continued. “My breathing was completely messed up.”

The CDC says chloramines that build up in the water cause health effects in swimmers.

Chloramines are a combination of chlorine and compounds like urine, sweat and personal care products. They are heavier than air and, if left undisturbed, they sit on the surface of the water precisely where swimmers gasp for air.

FOX 46 spoke to many competitive swimmers who have asthma and use inhalers at swim meets. The CDC, however, is apprehensive to link the prevalence of asthma in swimmers to poor air quality. Clary tells FOX 46 he never thought much of air quality, and neither did anyone else.

“It was very common at that pool to have people get pulled out, and put in an ambulance and taken to the hospital,” he said, “so for me, when it happened, it was just kind of like, ‘well, there’s another one taken to the hospital. Keep the meet moving.’”

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines is widely referred to as the ‘voice of swimming.’ He says the industry has taken air quality for granted.

“I’ve seen it in some of the best swimmers in the world that haven’t been able to perform at the highest level because of the air quality of a pool,” Gaines said.

As both an Olympian, and now a broadcaster, Gaines has had a front row seat to the sport’s highs and lows.

“I’ve seen it,” he said. “I’ve heard about it. I’ve watched it in action. I’ve seen meets being canceled because of it!”

One study from 2006 found young swimmers had more breathing problems than soccer players, and attributed it to higher levels of chlorine and byproducts in their pools.

Queens University freshman swimmer, Ella Van Troba told FOX 46, “We would stand outside in between sets to just get fresh air, and then go back in, like, super super bad!”

Van Troba started swimming competitively when she was around five years old.

“You know when you walk in if the pool has [bad air quality],” she said. “You don’t even have to be in the water to tell if the pool has bad air quality.”

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (or ASHRAE) publishes minimum indoor air quality requirements, but experts in the business say the bar needs to be raised. Some say air quality takes a back seat to budgets.

“The importance of the air is overlooked because it affects their pocketbook,” Baker said, adding, “most people think the smell of chlorine means it’s ok, and it’s not.”

While North Carolina has mandates for just about everything in public swimming pools, the list of rules don’t address a standard in air quality.